$124k in farmers grant ‘unverified’

Workers at the FSC Mill in Lautoka. Picture: FT FILE

Grants worth $124,530 given to farmers under the Sugarcane Development and Farmers Assistance Program could not be verified by the Auditor-General because of missing grant agreements that were the responsibility of Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC).

The Auditor-General’s report on the Performance Audit on the Monitoring of Implementation of the Sugarcane Development and Farmers Assistance Program tabled in Parliament last week stated grants worth $43,410 could not be verified in the Lautoka mill area after the FSC failed to provide them for verification.

Similarly, $81,120 worth of grants given to farmers could not be verified because of the unavailability of agreements.

“FSC is accountable for the disbursement of these funds and ensure that proper record keeping and financial requirements are met,” stated the OAG.

“FSC had not reported these gaps in their documentation to the ministry, as there was no requirement for them to prepare or submit such reports.

“The gaps in documentation mean it would be difficult to monitor the output which would otherwise be provided by the grant agreement.

“The grant agreements that were not available have caused limitation in our review of related payments.

“This limitation has prevented us from being able to form a conclusion on these payments and we are unable to fully preclude the possibility of fraud.”

The Ministry of Sugar stated it had commenced visiting the FSC to monitor disbursement of grants from 2021.

“The ministry should ensure that FSC develops and implements a records management system which should focus mainly on safe maintenance of records, retention and protection during disasters,” stated the OAG.

“The ministry and FSC could also evaluate cost and benefits of digitising the records which could be backed up and easily available post any natural disaster.”

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